The Department of Defense would be barred from providing assistance to Pakistan under a new amendment to the House of Representatives’ annual appropriations legislation. The measure, introduced by Tennessee Republican Andy Ogles, would cut off funds to Pakistan in the wake of an ongoing crackdown by the country’s military establishment and its civilian allies.
The Pakistani military and its allies have imprisoned the former prime minister, Imran Khan, and have held him behind bars despite the country’s High Court recently suspending a controversial sentence that barred him from running in upcoming elections. He is being held under the country’s Official Secrets Act — which is being enforced in apparent disregard for the Pakistani Constitution after being rejected by the nation’s president. Khan is charged with mishandling a secret government cable describing U.S. pressure to oust him from office. A hearing was held secretly in prison on Wednesday, with Khan’s detention extended to September 13, as the investigation continues. The Intercept recently published the contents of the cable, which was provided by a source in the Pakistan military.
Anti-military protests have rippled through the country in recent days amid anger at increasing energy prices that resulted from demands made by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF bailout was needed to counteract the capital flight and economic collapse that has accelerated in the wake of Khan’s ouster.
Pakistan has been the beneficiary of billions of dollars of U.S. military aid over the past two decades, mostly to support cooperation in the global war on terror and U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. During the Trump administration, the pipeline of annual Pentagon funding to the Pakistani military was slashed considerably, though the Department of Defense continues to provide other military support to the country. Military cooperation between Pakistan and the U.S. has increased again since Khan’s ouster, with the Pakistani military now emerging, by European accounts, as a significant supplier of military aid to Ukraine.
“The U.S. has long forgiven the unforgivable with Pakistan in the name of geopolitical expediency, dating back Nixon and Kissinger’s complicity with Operation Searchlight and the Bangladeshi genocide. The Biden Administration and Secretary Blinken’s tepid non-response to the Pakistani military’s brutal crackdown on the political opposition and independent media is a disappointing continuation of this history and a betrayal of the rules-based democracy they claim to stand for,” said Nathan Thompson with the advocacy group Just Foreign Policy. “I’m glad to see members of Congress finally seeking to review and potentially end U.S. complicity in abuses by Pakistan’s military regime.”
The amendment to the appropriations bill is an extreme long shot, but its introduction reflects increasing concerns about democratic backsliding in Pakistan across party lines. During the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this summer, Democratic Rep. Greg Casar of Texas pushed an amendment that would direct the State Department to study that backsliding, but it wasn’t ruled in order for a vote on the House floor. Ogles did not respond to a request for comment.
Pakistan is currently being led by a caretaker civilian government backed by the military, with the timing of future elections currently uncertain. A readout of a State Department meeting between U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland and Pakistani Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani earlier this week stated that the U.S. and Pakistan had “discussed the importance of timely, free and fair elections in a manner consistent with Pakistan’s laws and constitution.”